Calling all racing fans, Pep Boys Auto Service and Tires is proud to cheer on Loni Unser, an up-and-coming, dynamic professional race car driver. Loni is a fourth-generation driver who always had a love for racing, but officially started her career in motorsport her senior year of high school.
Now, the 22-year-old from Idaho is gearing up for the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 26 – an intense race with 156 turns in 12.42 miles and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain – which will be her first time competing at the popular location. She recently raced to victory in World Racing League (WRL) in March.
Pep Boys and the Unser family go way back on the racetrack. Loni’s father, Johnny Unser, raced in the 1998 and 1999 Pep Boys IndyCar Racing League. Pep Boys is proud to continue family tradition and support Loni this year. We’re excited to head to the races as she hits the road in the No. 92 Hagerty/Yokohama/Mobil 1/Pep Boys Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport during the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Pep Boys sat down with Loni ahead of Pikes Peak to learn more about her family’s deep roots in the history of racing, what it means to be a female in motorsports, and what she’s looking forward to this season.
How did you get into racing?
I've been around racing my entire life – I grew up going to the Indianapolis (Indy) 500 with my dad and watching him race. With my dad being in racing, I grew up in the industry as well, going to races with him and I fell in love with it. At first, my parents discouraged me from going into racing because they knew how difficult of an industry and sport it can be. I grew up skiing and as part of our ski team bonding, we’d go to the kart track, and I was always able to do better than everybody else. I feel like I found my way around the track so naturally.
When I was a senior in high school, my dad told me that when he was my age, he had the opportunity to go to driving school and said that he thought I should go too. I went to the BMW performance driving school when I was 18, and absolutely fell in love, more so than I already was. I didn’t want to do anything else. My family and I came up with a plan and I started racing with Spec Miata when I went to college-- and the rest is history.
How has your family impacted your career and love for racing?
My family has had a huge impact on me. Growing up, the Indy 500 was our family reunion. My dad and uncles would be there, helping me sneak into the pits. My uncle Al took me out in a pace car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track and I just thought my family was the best. They are my heroes.
Robby…has helped me a tremendous amount as well, just getting me comfortable in the car, getting to know the track, teaching me everything I needed to know. My uncle Bobby, who passed away last year, was also one of my biggest supporters, helping me on and off the track. My entire family has had a huge impact on me and are my inspiration. My family has accomplished incredible things in their careers and at the end of the day, I try and let it inspire me versus letting it put pressure on me.
How do you feel being a female in a male-dominated sport? Are there any challenges?
Part of the reason that I'm in this sport is to try and be a good role model for young girls, and for women who are my age or older. I want to show women they can do anything. I always say when I’m talking about my field, the car doesn't know who's behind the wheel, it doesn't matter. That’s what I think is so cool about motorsports – it doesn't matter who's behind the wheel, you can drive it just as fast as the next person. I love that we can compete as equals.
There have been challenges, but there are a lot of great people in the industry who completely champion me and stand behind me. I've really been able to connect with different women and it’s cool that we can all support one another and be there for each other.
What piece of advice would you give to a woman or young girl who wants to get into racing?
Be confident. I think you should stand up for yourself when you feel it's right – knowledge is power, and women should be an advocate for themselves when things get challenging. I’d also say the harder you work, more good things will come your way.
What are you most looking forward to this racing season?
I’d have to say the hill climb (Pikes Peak). After testing and driving the car on the mountain, it changed my life. It was the most incredible experience I’ve had racing.
On the way back down after my first run, I had tears in my eyes because of my family history and knowing everything they've accomplished, and now that I have a chance to do it. It was a special moment for me. It made me feel almost like I was meant to be there. I cannot wait for race day!
What professional career moment are you most proud of?
I had a cool moment last year racing in the Mazda MX-5 Cup with IMSA. We went to a street course, which is kind of like the Monaco Grand Prix, where they set it all up on the streets. The race was on the streets of St. Petersburg, and I had never raced there. The Mazda MX-5 Cup is particularly a very competitive and difficult series. I put in a lot of hours preparing for the race.
When I got there, I was instantly able to go quickly and be very competitive. The series had 30 cars and very talented drivers. For the first race, I finished seventh, and the second race I finished 10th.
While my results weren’t podium finishes, it was a huge accomplishment for me because in this series that is notoriously difficult, I was able to race with the best drivers who have been driving in the series for years. I also ended up being the first female to finish twice consecutively in the top 10 overall, so I was proud of how I executed the race.
What does success look like for you?
Ultimately, I think success is being able to connect with people and change someone’s life in a positive way. I want to show someone that if they thought they couldn’t do something, that they can. One of my favorite things outside of racing is connecting with fans. I love it. I love talking to people about racing and talking to people about doing things that they may think are hard. I believe that making yourself uncomfortable as much as you can is a good thing in life. Success to me is not only racing, but to be able to continue to connect with others.
Loni also answered some fast fun facts for fans to learn a few of her favorite things:
- Favorite vacation spot? Crested Butte, Colorado to mountain bike
- Favorite Food? Cornbread
- Favorite thing to eat before a race? Cookies
- Favorite sport that's not racing? Mountain Biking
- Favorite movie? The new Top Gun
- Favorite TV show? Bachelor/Bachelorette
- Favorite musical artist? Elderbrook
- Favorite way to unwind after a race? Sleep for sure!
Pep Boys is proud to cheer Loni on for her 2022 season!